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A link to the future of legal citations?


“Have you watched that video I tagged you in?!”

Within a few short years, clever memes and fail videos have taken over social media. If we happen to come across something worth sharing with our friends, social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter allow users to tag their friends in a post.

With two swift taps, users can go from their lock screen to the tagged content.

This exchange is something millennials are all too familiar with. Without question, millennials favor simplicity and efficiency over drawn out traditions. Recent efforts in technological advancement are evidence of just that, but such efforts have done little to modernize the tradition-heavy legal profession.

Given the increase in environmental concerns, many industries have opted to go paperless. In the legal profession, judges, government agencies, and law firms are actively taking steps to reduce their paper usage by switching to electronic documents. Although this is a step in the right direction, there is still much to be done with respect to the use of electronic documents. In order to decrease the overall length of legal documents, citation length should be minimized.

Legal citations are anything but simple. First-year law students spend countless hours flipping through the Bluebook in hopes of mastering the art of legal citation. The average law student will have, at most, three writing courses in his or her three years of law school. With increasing concerns over the writing skills of young attorneys, law schools should be devoting their time to developing the legal writing skills of their students.

Now, imagine a world where, instead of spending countless hours staring at the Bluebook, first-year law students can spend most of their time trying to “think like a lawyer” and write like one too. It goes without saying that legal citations are important, but if the same goal can be achieved in a more efficient way, why not take the alternate route? If law schools continue to keep the status quo, the schools are essentially depriving students of precious class that could be devoted to improving writing skills.

Hyperlinks are the answer. If the purpose of a citation is to enable the reader to check the writer’s sources, a hyperlink – as opposed to a long citation – offers a quick and easy alternative. Using a hyperlink is more efficient for two reasons.

First, the reader need not use Westlaw or Lexis, where the reader runs the risk of either mistakenly typing the citation, or accurately typing an incorrect citation. Instead of reading the substance of the writer’s paper, the reader is now forced to waste time looking for the correct source. If the writer had used a hyperlink, then the reader would have been directed to the correct source in a matter of seconds.

Second, hyperlinks take up less space in a document and, thus less paper. However, if the reader decides to print out a document, the reader cannot simply look at the hyperlink and determine its source. As a result, it would be unlikely that the reader would print the document since he or she would have to waste time by going back to a computer to click on the hyperlinks. Overall, this method would not only modernize the way we cite, but also contribute to the preservation of the environment.

Further, professors would be able to allocate more time to writing structure and efficient legal research. Associates at law firms could devote their billable hours to something other than revising citations. In addition, hyperlinks could also decrease firm costs associated with Lexis and Westlaw, since less time will be spent searching for citations. Even more, this method has the potential of unifying the various ways to cite to a legal source, since not all jurisdictions use the Bluebook. By adopting the hyperlink method, both associates and students avoid having to spend time adjusting to different citations methods. In any situation, the writer saves time and trees.

This hyperlink method offers a more intuitive alternative for the new generation of tech-savvy lawyers.

Don’t take my word for it, see for yourself.

Raul Velez Raul Velez is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. He is on the National Trial Team at Syracuse and hopes to pursue a career in securities litigation. He also served as the ABA Law Student Division’s 2nd Circuit governor, where he passionately advocated for the adoption of the UBE across the nation.